Managing arthritis in cats: a comprehensive guide

June 7, 2024 - 4 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Rebecca MacMillan on June 7, 2024 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

Illustration of a cat with a bubble pointing to it's back leg, inside the bubble is a joint, slit in half with jagged edges and a pink line in between each half

Arthritis in cats is a common condition that can significantly affect their quality of life, especially as they age.

This guide will help you understand the signs, diagnosis, treatment, and management of arthritis to ensure your cat stays as comfortable and healthy as possible.

What is arthritis in cats?

Arthritis in cats, also known as feline osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease that leads to the breakdown of cartilage within the joints (most commonly the hips, knees, and spine).

As the cartilage deteriorates, the bones in the joint rub against each other, resulting in discomfort and decreased joint function. It can occur as part of ‘wear and tear’ as your cat ages, but arthritis may also occur secondary to joint abnormalities or previous trauma.

How to tell if your cat has arthritis

A fluffy tabby cat with a white chest and paws lying on a carpeted staircase, looking down. The cat is positioned near the banister with its front paw hanging over the step.

Arthritis can be challenging to detect in cats due to their natural tendency to hide discomfort. The good news? If you keep a close eye on your cat, you might be able to catch arthritis early, which can make a world of difference for your cat.

By spotting the initial, subtle signs, you can start treatments that ease their discomfort and slow the progression of the disease.

Here's what to watch for:

Subtle early signs of arthritis

A close-up of a fluffy cat with a tabby and white coat, looking to the side. The cat has green eyes and is lying down, bathed in sunlight.

  • Less active and avoiding jumps: If your cat isn’t jumping onto their favorite perch or seems less active, they might be trying to avoid joint pain.

  • Stiffness after resting: Notice your cat moving slowly or stiffly after waking up? This could be an early sign of arthritis.

  • Not grooming well: If your cat’s coat looks a bit scruffy or matted, it could be because arthritis makes grooming painful.

Progressive symptoms

As arthritis progresses, the symptoms become more noticeable and can really impact your cat’s life. Recognizing these signs means you can adjust their care to keep them comfortable.

A close-up of a tabby cat's legs and tail, standing on a surface with light shining on its fur.

Look for these progressive symptoms:

  • Limping or lameness: If your cat starts limping or their gait changes noticeably, it’s a sign that their joints are hurting more.

  • Struggling with the litter box: Difficulty getting in and out of the litter box or having accidents outside of it can be a sign of arthritis.

  • Swollen joints: Visible swelling around the joints or a painful reaction when you touch these areas can indicate more advanced arthritis.

  • Muscle atrophy: Your cat’s muscles may become weakened, secondary to their arthritis. This may make your cat seem thinner than they were previously.

Behavioral changes

Cat sitting on someones lap

Arthritis doesn’t just affect your cat physically; it can change their behavior too. Noticing these shifts can help you understand how much pain they’re in.

Pay attention to these behavioral changes:

Of course, all of these symptoms could also be a sign of other potentially serious health issues. That's why it's so important to see your vet to get to the root of the problem!

Diagnosing arthritis in cats

Close up photo of a red cat sleeping on a green pillow

Here are some key steps, from initial veterinary evaluations to regular monitoring, to help you manage your cat's condition and improve their quality of life.

Veterinary evaluation

Regular check-ups are crucial. Vets can spot early signs of arthritis through physical examinations as well as assessing your cat’s overall health.

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Diagnostic tools

Your vet may use x-rays, ultrasounds, and/or blood tests to confirm arthritis and rule out other conditions.

Regular monitoring

It's useful to keep a log of your cat's symptoms and behaviors to help your vet track the progression of the condition and adjust treatments as needed.

How to help a cat with arthritis

A senior woman is getting cozy with her fluffy and cute older ginger cat cat

Managing arthritis involves a multi-faceted approach to ensure your cat remains comfortable. Here are some key methods to help your cat manage pain and maintain a good quality of life.

Pain management

Depending on your cat's level of arthritis pain, your vet might recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other pain relief medications (like tramadol and gabapentin). Monoclonal antibodies are also used frequently as another method of relieving pain.


You've probably heard of glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids. Supplements like these might help support your cat's joint health and may even alleviate symptoms. As always, ask your vet for recommendations for your cat.

Diet and nutrition

A balanced diet is essential for managing arthritis, especially if your cat is overweight. There are also some special prescription diets for joint health that your vet might recommend. Make sure to ask!

Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies can complement traditional treatments and offer additional relief. Ask your vet if acupuncture, physical therapy, or massage could improve your cat's quality of life.

Lifestyle and home adjustments

High Angle View of Beautiful Devon Rex Cat Sitting on Moisture Absorbent Sand in Litter Box

Making small changes at home can enhance your cat's quality of life as their mobility decreases. Here are some adjustments to consider:

Environmental modifications

Creating a comfortable and accessible environment for your cat can make a big difference. Try adding softer bedding, ramps, and easily accessible litter boxes with lower sides. You could also try using elevated feeding bowls to make mealtime easier on your cat.

Exercise and play

Gentle exercise and play can help keep your cat engaged as their arthritis progresses and their mobility decreases. Opt for gentle play to keep them limber, and buy some interactive toys that don't require jumping.

Burmese cat preparying to attack a blurred out toy mouse in the foreground.

Long-term management

Consistent care is key to managing arthritis effectively. Long-term management includes regular monitoring and adjustments; your vet can help you devise a plan.

Routine veterinary visits

Regular check-ups allow your vet to adjust treatment plans and monitor your cat's progress.

Monitoring weight

While chonky cats might seem huggable, obesity can cause a host of health issues. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on joints and can alleviate arthritis symptoms.

Mental health

Keeping your cat mentally stimulated with toys and social interaction is vital for their overall well-being. It's even more important as they age and can't interact (or plop down on your laptop) quite like they used to.

Support and resources

Woman with cat looking at laptop

Connecting with others and finding valuable information can help you manage your cat's arthritis more effectively while also potentially giving you some emotional support as your kitty ages.

There are also numerous articles and studies that provide in-depth information on arthritis in cats. Here are a few good ones:

By understanding and managing your cat's arthritis, you can ensure they live a comfortable and happy life. Interested in whether or not insuring your older cat is worth it? Learn more, and get a quote today!

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Top-notch cat insurance

Insure all 9 lives.

Curious cats get into tricky situations. Insurance can help reimburse you for unexpected accidents and illnesses.

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Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.